Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Corylus avellana, Alun or European Hazel Tree

Illustration_Corylus_avellana0Corylus avellana, or the common European  hazel tree,  is known as alun to most Romanians. Over time, the alun tree has had multiple uses in tool crafting, medicine and magic.

According to Butură, the Căluşari would use hazel wood to craft their banner. In some areas, gypsies, widely associated with witchcraft, would only use hazel wood walking sticks. In Banat (west Romania), women would build hazel wood fires in  for the dead in graveyards.

Marian notes that hazel branches have, according to Romanian folklore, magical powers over snakes and unclean spirits.

The broom that Baba Cloanța, hag with magical powers from Romanian folklore, rides on is also crafted out of hazel wood. Legend has it that when a young woman misses her boyfriend from afar, she has to visit such a hag, bringing her a white rooster and some silver coins. In the witch’s house she will find three hazel branches. After the magical work is done, which involves burning some coals stolen from graves, chanting, and battering a pot with the hazel branches, the girl’s lover will arrive riding a post made out of – you guessed it- hazel wood. It is said that witches cast binding spells using pitchforks crafted out of the same type of wood.

It is not only witches that craft their tools using hazel branches, but also the ones who fight against the Solomonari,legendary sorcerers belonging to the Romanian folklore. Legend has it that the Solomonari, after spending their first seven years underground studying the Art from a book written by the Devil himself, ride their dragons above the clouds, bringing terrible storms and hail.

The men that battle the Solomonari are called Pietrari (piatră – stone). Their main weapon against the feared sorcerers is, of course, the sacred hazel branch.

Oișteanu mentions witches bringing or conjuring rain away with the help of hazel branches by going naked near ponds and casting various spells.

*image stolen from gutenberg.org

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Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Datura stramonium or Ciumăfaie

Datura stramonium, widely known as Ciumăfaie in Romanian folklore , also goes by the names of  Bolîndăriță ( from boală – disease), Ciuma fetei ( the girl’s plague, lit.),  cornută ( from corn – horn, the horned one, lit.), Iarba dracului ( the devil’s weed) or  Nebunariță ( from nebun – insane). As found in Borza’s dictionary of ethnobotanics, most of the plant’s given names relate to madness or even rabies, due to Datura’s well known psychotropic properties.

In Valer Butură’s Encyclopedia , it is described as having white flowers and black seeds. It grows on roadsides, or along fences. Its leafs were used for healing pustule, as  they would draw the puss. It was also used during plague epidemics, hence the common name  Ciumăfaie ( ciumă – plague).

In Bucovina, women use Ciumăfaie for love spells, bindings and curses. According  to Marian, witches place Datura seeds in the victim’s drink in order to break their will.  Marian has a different view on the connection between Datura and the plague: the disease was personified as an ugly, old lady and so was Ciumăfaie, plant which they linked to the disease, due to the fact that the effects of  the plant when ingested were as horrid and hard  to battle as the symptoms of the plague.

Oișteanu mentions that in some Romanian cosmogonies, plants such as Datura or Atropa belladonna were created by the Devil himself. Also, the use of hallucinogenic ointments containing  Ciumăfaie has been attested in some areas of Romania. The female living strigoi would use ointments containing extracts of hallucinogenic plants in order to magically fly to their places of gathering. Datura was akso used to feed the dead strigoi in order to keep them from harming the living.

*illustration stolen from http://plantgenera.org/

 

 

 

Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Artemisia absinthium or Pelin

Artemisia absinthium is, according to Borza’s dictionary, known as Iarba Fecioarelor (maidens’ weed), or most commonly, Pelin. 

It belongs to the Compositae family and it can be found growing in arid places, on roadsides or along fences. Due to its active components, its use for therapeutic purposes has been attested ever since Antiquity. In Romanian folklore, Pelin  was commonly associated with the dance of CăluşariThe dancers would wear Pelin plants around their waists.

Marian notes that Pelin is used in spells against  Cel-Perit (lit.the dead one), an archaic name for a disease we now know as Syphilis. The healer must touch the pustule with the plant nine times, while chanting specific words.

In Bucovina, Romanian women use Pelin to protect themselves and their children from vântoase, female mythical creatures similar to the iele. Also in Bucovina, women make brooms using dried Pelin, with which they sweep their homes in order to keep the evil spirits out.

Oișteanu mentions the frequent use of Pelin by the Căluşariwho ingest large quantities of the plant. He quotes some Romanian popular lyrics:

Pelin beau, pelin mănânc,

Seara pe pelin mă culc,

Dimineața când mă scol

Cu pelin pe ochi mă spăl.

 

Pelin I drink, pelin I eat,

At night I sleep on pelin,

When I wake up in the morning

I wash my face with pelin.

 

* image stolen from http://www.plantillustrations.org/

** this is an approximate translation, I have mentioned before that I am not a professional translator, but I tried to do my best, as usual

Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Atropa Belladonna or Mătrăguna

belladonnaOn my other blog , I used to have  a thing called “Creature Feature”, where I would expand on various beasts from Romanian folklore. I’ve now decided to pay a little bit of attention to the plant kingdom and the Romanian legends, rites and rituals that revolve around it.

We’re going to start with one of our well known ethnobotanical friends, Atropa belladonna. Known as Banewort or Deadly Nightshade in English, Atropa belladonna is most commonly called Mătrăguna in Romanian folklore. According to Borza’s Dictionary, it also goes by the names of  Cinstita (the honest), Cireașa lupului (wolf’s cherry), Doamna codrului (lady of the forest), Iarba lupului (wolf’s grass),  or Împărăteasa buruienilor (the empress of weeds).

It belongs to the Solanaceae family, has brown-violet flowers and shiny black fruits. Its leaves and roots  are rich in alkaloids such as hyoscyamine, atropine or scopolamine.

In his book on Romanian ethnobotanics, Marian talks about the important role that Atropa belladonna plays in love spells cast by women.

A young woman that desires to attract the company of young men has to dress up in her newest, cleanest set of clothes on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. For this ritual, she needs around 500ml of holercă (bad quality moonshine), a glass and a loaf of bread. Just before sunrise she will go to the place where the plant is growing and  go round the belladonna  while saying:

Mătrăgună, doamnă bună!

Mărită-mă-n astă lună

De nu-n asta, -n ceealaltă

-i destul de când sunt fată.

 

Mătrăgună, kind lady

Get me married this month,

If not this one, then the next,

I have been enough a maid.

 

Then, the young woman is supposed to lay the table cloth at the feet of the plant and serve it the glass of moonshine saying:

Mătrăgună, poamă bună!

Eu te cinstesc cu cinste

Cu dragoste și cu pâine,

Să vie norocul la mine…

Norocul când s-a-mpărțit,

Eram cu plugul la câmp

Puțintel mi s-a venit,

Mătrăgun-am sorocit!

 

Mătrăgună, good seed

In honesty I serve you

With love and bread

May you send me luck…

When luck got spread

I was harvesting the field

So I didn’t get a lot

I was meant for Mătrăgună.

 

After reciting the spell above, she has to drink the moonshine, refill the glass and sprinkle the refill on the plant. She will do the same with some bread. The maiden will then take the bread left in the tablecloth, put the bottle on her head, grab the filled glass in her hand and return to her home, chanting the spell.

She will repeat the ritual on the following Wednesday and Friday, choosing different roads back home and being careful not to be seen.

On Friday, she will harvest the plant and take it home wrapped in the table cloth. When home, she will put it under the pillow and bathe in an infusion of Belladonna in the evening.  She will take the plant back on Saturday morning. She has to take another way back home and never look back.

In his book on narcotics in Romanian culture and folklore, Oișteanu quotes Marian regarding  Belladonna. In Bucovina (north-east of Romania), it is believed that there are two types of Mătrăgună: the black one, which grows in shady groves, and the white one, which grows where the sun scorches the earth.

Tavern or inn owners put the plant on top of the moonshine barrels, to attract patrons.

Mătrăguna can also be used to harm enemies. If this is the case, one must harvest the plant while cussing and cursing, moving one’s limbs chaotically and invoking the plant’s magical powers. After the harvest, parts of the plant are placed in the victim’s food or drink. It is said that the one cursed like this goes insane and never gets his sanity back.

 

*image stolen from http://www.henriettes-herb.com

** the verses in bold are an approximate translation and interpretation of the Romanian incantation, due to the archaic use of language and to the fact that I am not a professional translator this is the best I could do